Wellbeing of the young child 



Jo Dean

Head Teacher, Secret Garden Childcare Centre
New Zealand


Dr Andi Delaune, MEd

Lecturer, School of Teach Education
University of Canterbury
New Zealand






He kokonga whare e kitea, he kokonga ngākau e kore e kitea


A corner of the house may be seen and examined, not so the corners of the heart.


We may be able to see the corners of a ‘house’ but we cannot see the inner thoughts or feelings of a person. We need to take care when teaching tamariki as we may not be aware of all that is happening in their lives. From the outset, our pedagogical responses must build towards strengthening wellbeing rather than waiting to patch things up later. All tamariki, including young gifted tamariki, have the right to have their health and wellbeing promoted and to be protected (Ministry of Education, 2017). 


To support the wellbeing of young children, Sir Mason Durie’s (1994) well known Māori model of health Te Whare Tapa Whā is a useful model to guide thinking and practice. This model can be adapted to all levels of identity and is based on the structure of a whare (house) which has four strong walls, with each wall representing a cornerstone of health: taha tinana (physical health); taha wairua (spiritual health); taha whānau (family health) and taha hinengaro (mental health).  Each dimension cannot be separated from another and in balance, they represent ‘best health’. If one wall is weakened the structure of the house is in peril and all the walls can fall.  So, if a child’s emotional wellbeing is not so great, then it can affect their wellbeing in all areas, and show in physical, spiritual and social ways. When considering the young gifted child and their whānau, we can consider these walls and how we can strengthen each within our pedagogical practices. As teachers, some areas may be outside of our reach, but if we can strengthen the other walls as best we can, the house is less likely to collapse. Supporting tamariki with respectful practices so that all four walls are supported will develop lifelong strategies and skills for coping with adversity.


Taha tinana/physical health refers to the capacity for growth and development, which is not only important individually, but can be extended to whānau, and to community, and the need for a balance between environmental growth and development. It is a sense of responsibility for children’s own wellbeing and that of others. Promoting an environment that supports tamariki to challenge their bodies at their own pace. Enticing tamariki to explore their own self through the use of open spaces, a rich sensory environment and open-ended experiences.


Taha wairua/spiritual health is intimately linked with the environment which, within an indigenous perspective, it is believed to be the host of the spirits of our ancestors. This spiritual link, through the environment, is indicative of the relationship between our ancestors of the past, present and future. Encouraging tamariki to feel deeply with their senses, feeling their connection with mother earth and the beauty and awe around us. Spiritual wellbeing is something intangible and can be hard to describe - to support our young gifted tamariki it is helpful to know the views, values, and beliefs of whānau.


Taha whānau/family connections refers to the stance we take within greater social systems, not only through our own immediate and extended family networks, but also through the relationships we have as the class ‘humans’. The whānau aspect of this model also provides us with a link to our ancestors, who define who we are, and provides us with ties to the past, present and the future. By sharing discussions, celebrating and sharing our knowledge of what makes us special and unique. Encouraging tamariki to be aware of the differences, and similarities, between themselves and others supports them to begin to understand and appreciate diversity. Allowing opportunities for tamariki to build a positive image of themselves, while also developing an understanding of the concept of interdependence.


Taha hinengaro refers to thoughts, feelings and behaviour which are vital to well-being.  Durie (1998) refers to te taha hinengaro as the capacity to communicate, to think and to feel. It is governed by the idea that to think and feel, mind and body are inseparable. To have strong mental health is reliant on one’s ability to be able to express emotion. Supporting tamariki to gain an understanding of their emotional needs and feelings and trusting that their needs will be met. Being aware of the different cultural values and beliefs around health and the individual and whānau and being respectful and open to these different beliefs and values will ensure meaningful engagement and connections can occur with tamariki and whānau.


As teachers, we may not have direct involvement with tamariki in areas outside of education, but we do have direct involvement in developing the wairua of our learning space to support the four dimensions of Te Whare Tapa Whā.  We can ask ourselves ‘He aha te wairua o te akomanga? What is the feeling of the learning space?’ To develop strong taha for our tamariki, we need to respect the value of tairongo, the senses, and how e rima ngā rongo are supported in order to strengthen taha tinana, wairua, hinengaro and whānau. 


When evaluating akomanga to consider the wellbeing of young children, it is important to think about how the environment supports the senses of tamariki. For an ideal space that builds on the four dimensions of Te Whare Tapa Whā, we need to reflect upon what we want our tamariki to kite (see), to rongo (hear, taste, feel, smell)? We want to build an environment that respects the value of te puku as a place of intuition, and the holistic knowledge that can be gained from our puku. Our akomanga should demonstrate respectful practices through design and decoration. It should be warm and inviting, and reflect the tamariki and whānau in ways that show their ‘mark’ upon the space. 


We may want to ask ourselves:

Can our tamariki and whānau feel at ease in this space? Furthermore, have we really developed a strong understanding of what ‘at ease’ means for each child that we care for? 


For our tamariki that are sensitive to sound, do we support spaces for quiet reflection? For those that appreciate a little bit of whakatoi (cheekiness) does our space allow the expression of this important value? Can we show the values of our whānau to uplift the wairua of the tamariki? Does our environment show a value for activity and movement? Are children’s rights to speak and be heard are reflected in the space? 


While these are only some small suggestions, using a wellbeing model to support young gifted children’s wellbeing can be beneficial and give a different perspective. There will be plenty more suggestions that you might like to add. 


Happy Gifted Awareness week!



About Jo Dean and Andi Delaune


Jo Dean is Head teacher at an early childhood Centre in the Manawatu and her professional experience also includes research and professional development facilitation. She is an active committee member of the regional CenGATE association in Palmerston North and has facilitated connections between early childhood education and primary schools, building a stronger networking community to support teachers, gifted children and their whānau/families. She is a member of the giftEDnz Board and a founding committee member of the Special interest ‘Early Years’ group.


Dr Andi Delaune is a Lecturer in Early Childhood Education at Te Whare Wānanga o Waitaha, University of Canterbury. Andi's Master of Education thesis explored perceptions of giftedness for children under the age of three, and her PhD thesis supports an attentive approach to education that seeks to see and respond to the individual child and uphold education as a relational undertaking. As an early childhood educator for almost 20 years, Andi has extensive experience in educational settings that she draws from to improve educational policy to support excellence in early childhood educational experiences for children. She is a member of the giftEDnz Board and the Ministry of Education’s Gifted Advisory group.






Posted as part of the 2020 New Zealand Gifted Awareness Blog Tour, run by the New Zealand Centre for Gifted Education.

The views and opinions expressed in the Gifted Awareness Week Blog Tour are solely those of the original authors and other contributors. These views and opinions do not necessarily represent those of NZCGE, their staff, and/or any/all contributors to Gifted Awareness Week.

Wellbeing of the young child 

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